Fighting Fire with Fire

Fighting Fire with Fire: A Case for Giant Sequoia and Community Protection

 

Today, I want to express my deepest concerns and sympathy for residents in the mountain communities experiencing the Pier Wildfire. As a wildlands resident for 15 years and recent Pier Fire refugee, I want to extend gratitude to the teams of volunteers and professionals who responded to a wildfire that remains completely unpredictable. At times, this fire almost outwitted our crews…almost. These heroes have worked tirelessly to keep communities safe while maintaining ecological health in the Giant Sequoia National Monument and Sequoia National Forest-- exactly as the 2012 Giant Sequoia Management Plan intended .

It’s critical to understand that when Giant Sequoia received its national monument designation, it was done with thoughtful consideration to wildfire risk. Its management plan specifically supports a number of fuels reduction activities-- including prescribed burns, managed wildfires, fuel reduction by hand, fuel reduction by mechanical treatment and removal of felled trees. These actions include both public safety and ecological benefits. The plan even allows timber removal if it cannot serve an ecological purpose for the forest. This carefully-crafted management plan is the best option for a healthy and safe Giant Sequoia system. In fact, for all practical purposes, this is the only plan that is demonstrable and fully-approved. Unfortunately, it’s still barely funded. This is a huge concern for community safety and habitat health. 

With climate revealing patterns of more wildfires and increased devastation severity, we need to address a time-sensitive and grave concern-- how we shift away from expensive and dangerous wildfire responses toward better prevention that deals with fuels ahead of disaster and danger. It’s about personal responsibility paired with the use of this strategic management plan-- one that doesn’t create scenarios of more severe, future devastation.  

Forest Supervisor Kevin Elliott acknowledges that the current management plan successfully restores and manages 33 giant sequoia groves. Its tactics provide healthy watersheds, homes for unique wildlife and unparalleled recreation opportunities for Americans.  Any reduction in size, status, or protection of the Giant Sequoia National Monument scraps years of efforts placed in this cohesive, collaborative management effort-- one attempting to actively reduce the threat of wildfire.  

Certainly, it will take a deliberate effort to educate communities about wildfire safety and benefits of natural fire. For starters, a key difference between the natural fires that have shaped Sierra Forests for thousands of years and modern megafires is that a much higher percentage of many modern fires burn at a high severity. Most modern fires are extremely hot-- killing even the larger old trees. In contrast, natural fires burn at a mix of low, moderate, and high severities, creating  plant communities of varying height, size and densities. This would naturally limit the spread of dangerous megafires while providing a mix of benefits to the forest. The careful use of fire is a necessary part of the mix-- keeping California landscapes fire resilient and health for our children and safe for those of us living in it. And that’s just scientific fact.   

We further need to debunk the myth of clearcutting or harvesting large trees  as a solution. According to CalFire, over 48% of the logged Sequoia National Forest has burned at least once in comparison to just 25.3% of the unlogged Giant Sequoia monument.  In the same recorded period, only 3% of Sequoia National Park burned in places where they prohibited logging entirely.  Chopping large trees and old growth forests is not the solution to reducing wildfire risk. These types of species have less surface area. They’re naturally fire-resistant and do not ignite as easily. 

In fact, logging leaves behind fine woody material and dry leaves on the ground-- opening up the canopy which encourages the growth of sun-loving shrubs and consequently decreases humidity. This spikes megafire risk. When the trees are chopped, it leaves lighter grass and shrubs-- causing fire to move across the landscape faster. The 2016 Erskine Fire started this way. With the influence of exceptionally high winds, it destroyed over 285 homes long before it crested the Piute Mountains and burned any of the forest ecosystem. 

Misinformed politics, slashing conservation budgets and reducing protections to the Giant Sequoia National Monument only moves us backward. In the short term, fire prevention dollars should be focused on areas where people live and work. The U.S. Forest Service cannot sustain robbing Peter to pay Paul-- transferring money from conservation efforts to wildfire suppression. It puts communities in danger when they need emergency suppression funds while also undermining sustainable management practices.  The long-term safety of our communities relies on carrying out the Giant Sequoia Management Plan-- ensuring forests are healthy while reducing air pollution and climate disruption. Giant Sequoia National Monument needs better funding for fire management - not a reduction in size - to make the landscape fire resilient.

9/2/17 The Pier WildFire: Saving Lives, Property, and the Truth

Today in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, we are concerned about the potential for homes being lost and the safety of the residents of the mountain communities threatened by the Pier Wildfire. There is a large interagency response at the helm and certainly the track record of these heroes speaks for itself. Thank you, Calfire, Tulare County, USFS, Region 5 Interagency Command, and the volunteer firefighters who are all standing between the fie and the communities where, for 16 years now,  I live and love.

After the fire is contained, it is critical that we work to keep families safe and reduce risk for communities. The area's national monument status will not affect the ability of firefighters to protect families and property. California is a fire-prone state. Fire is a natural process and plays an important role in keeping forests healthy and creating new wildlife habitat. Fire officials for the Forest Service work with fire to reduce the risk to people and property.

The following are excerpts from "Talking Points About Fire" (Giant Sequoia Defense Organizers)

Fire behavior is contingent upon local conditions and habitats, so a “one-size-fits-all” prescription cannot be the answer.
However, in the short term fire prevention dollars should be focused on areas where people live and work. The Forest Service needs to secure additional independent federal funding to reduce fire risk in this Wildland Urban Intermix (WUI).

The long-term safety of our communities relies on better forest management to ensure forests are healthy, and reducing climate pollution to fight climate disruption. This includes the maintenance of national monument protections for all of Giant Sequoia National Monument.

The 2012 Giant Sequoia National Monument Management Plan specifically supports a number of fuels reduction activities, including prescribed burns; managed wildfire; fuel reduction by hand; fuel reduction by mechanical treatment (for ecological restoration or public safety); and removal of felled trees (for ecological restoration or public safety). The management plan may allow for resale of the timber removed if it cannot serve an ecological purpose in the monument.

Researchers have discovered that Giant Sequoia and related coast redwood forests store more climate-altering carbon pollution per acre than any other forest type on Earth.
The monument was proclaimed in 2000. Using complete annual CalFire data for the years 2000-2016 over 48% of the logged Sequoia National Forest has burned at least once while just 25.3% of the unlogged Monument has burned. In this same period 3% of Sequoia National Park where zero logging is allowed has burned.

Logging big trees is not the solution to reducing wildfire risk. Large older trees have less surface area causing them to be naturally fire-resistant and less of a fire risk.
Logging leaves behind fine woody material and dry leaves on the ground, opens up the canopy, which encourages the growth of sun-loving shrubs while decreasing humidity in the forest, and making fire conditions worse.

Light flashy fuel such as grass and shrubs cause fire to move across the landscape faster than heavier forest fuel. The Erskine Fire in 2016 started in light fuel during exceptionally high winds destroying over 285 homes long before the fire crested the Piute Mountains and burned any of the forest ecosystem.

Disrupting the natural fire regime through fire suppression has made forests more flammable. The careful use of fire is a necessary part of the mix to keep California landscapes fire resilient. In Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, a landscape nearly identical to the Monument, prescribed fire has been successfully used to reduce fire intensity and risk.

Thanks. Mehmet

 

 

Communities voice strong support for protecting our Giant Sequoia National Monument - Tulare County Ignores public opinion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Contact:  
Art Rodriguez, WildPlaces
arturo@wildplaces.net

Communities voice strong support for protecting our Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Tulare County Ignores local cities which strongly oppose the plan to dramatically reduce the boundaries of the monument.

VISALIA, CA -- Today, Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted (3-2) to approve a letter calling for the reduction of the Giant Sequoia National Monument (GSNM) boundaries. The move was pushed by supervisor Steve Worthley, a former logging industry executive with a history of suing the U.S. Forest Service over the GSNM and a stated desire to open the protected forest to logging. Public testimony was unanimously opposed to the letter and any reductions to the GSNM.

“We've already lost so much of our forest-this is some of our last. When we take youth from the Central Valley to the Giant Sequoias as part of pur programs, kids that otherwise aren't keeping up in schools excel in place-based learning in nature. These forests are a source of life, water, clean air and spiritual sustenance for our Central Valley communities, and the world. Resource extraction is not a solution,” said Art Rodriquez of WildPlaces.

Public opposition to reducing GSNM boundaries led Kern County to drop consideration of a similar measure and the City of Porterville, a gateway community, when given a similar resolution, chose to instead approve a letter supporting the monument and asking for more funding for management and tourism.

“It’s clear that the community supports Giant Sequoia National Monument and wants to see it exist in the future. Cutting two-thirds of Giant Sequoia is a bad move for our giants, the ecosystem that maintains the giants, and our future,” said Sarah Friedman of the Sierra Club.

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Climate Change, Water Inequity, and Reverance for Nature

Mehmet McMillan, from the community of Springville, CA, speaks about the condition of our Sierra headwaters and the implications within our town of East Porterville, CA. The Climate Change Project for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), collected interviews of people about their experiences with climate change for a traveling exhibit that UCAR is organizing. Here's Mehmet's pitch:

(BTW. Clarisse the Climate Cow pictured here is not officially part of the UCAR climate project, but she is important nonetheless.)

In Our Own Backyard . . .


WildPlaces is a community benefit organization dedicated to the stewardship of the Southern Sierra Nevada which includes the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The 45th president of the US of A and his administration is proposing a major reduction of one of our most valued treasures, the Sequoiadendron giganteum aka Giant Sequoia. Currently there are three-hundred and twenty thousand acres of national monument, two-hundred and thirty thousand of which are proposed to no longer have the resource protections offered with a monument designation.

Many believe this is a start of a plan, to open up the forest for the privatization of our resources and to commence unsustainable logging techniques. We also understand it is important to protect what so many before us worked hard to protect. "We will see the same unsustainable, destructive extraction practices seen elsewhere as this administration dismantles California's natural legacy," explained Mehmet McMillan of WildPlaces, as he was describing how forest mismanagement will hurt our ecosystems for hundreds of years.

The Giant Sequoia National Monument is home to hundreds of species both flora and fauna. The mountain yellow-legged frog, Kern River Golden Trout, and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, all of which are endangered species. Recovery efforts are now underway for them. Taking away protection, directly threatens the very existence of these species, not to mention the many more located throughout the country. Recovery efforts for a species, require large amounts of resources, with a marginal chance of success when its ecosystem is intact. Removing protections is like driving the nail in the coffin for these creatures.

WildPlaces made it possible for over one thousand volunteers and voters to protect these lands and rivers. Protecting our upland water sheds and its ecosystems are essential for the longevity of our natural resources. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see how important it is to protect our rivers," states Art Rodriguez- Director at Poplar Community Services District. Common question raised by those community members is of what are the benefits of removing monument designation" Who benefits? 

The Giant Sequoia Monument is one of the few places in Tulare County people travel around the world to see. The economical impact on one of the poorest counties in the nation, could be devastating for those business owners who struggled to make ends meet.

The City of Porterville is the nearest population center to the Giant Sequoia National Monument. In a recent article, Porterville City Council will vote to adopt a resolution in which it will support the removal of protections to our forest. The special city council meeting will be this Tuesday June 13th at 5:30 pm in Porterville's City Hall.

"The resolution will reinforce the justification of drastic reduction in federal funding, which protects our natural resources." J.D.

On Wilderness and Outliving the Bastards

As WildPlaces' Sequoia Roots Restoration Corp comes to its graduation at Wilderness Ranger Academy, we are inspired, moved, and better prepared to do the job we're designed to do. One of the final sessions is on self-care in the wilderness. It reminds me of Ed Abbey and something we proclaim about how we would rather climb a tree than a corporate ladder . . .

"One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast . . . a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space.

Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. 


I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards."

-Ed Abbey

"Be a Water Warrior" Essay Contest

Wild Waterways — Community Rivers Project — Essay Contest for First Graders

WildPlaces, invites all the First graders of Porterville School district  to be a “Be a Water Warrior”.  Students should complete essays in class. WP will collect essays, select finalists according to the grade appropriate rubric, and WP Advisory Board members would select the two co-winners. Each winner will win a bicycle.

WildPlaces will publish the winners in the local newspapers with the announcement of an upcoming community WP hosted event.

Support information and a story frame packets are included in each teacher packet.

WildPlaces is a community benefits 501c3 organization based in Springville, California and working in Kern, Tulare, and Fresno Counties. We have a 15-year history of stewardship of land, water, and communities. We are aware of the need to take direct action in protecting natural resources through place-based projects, outreach and education our communities.

WildLeaders Training

May 13-14, 2017

WildPlaces' staff, new volunteer recruits, and Program Leaders attend this two-day workshop and receive specific site/field training to ensure safety and program impact. Basic first aid, media, communications, volunteer management, and emergency response/risk management are emphasiszed. Held on the Tule River in Springville, particiapants will camp, cook together, and understand WP policy and vision. This is free of charge and all food is provided.

Friday, May 12th

Participants are encouraged to arrive Friday before training. Food will be ready for late arrivals. Camping is free and beautiful at the training site.

Saturday, May 13th

8-9am: Group Prepared Breakfast/Registration

9-9:30am: WildPlaces Overview and the summer calendar

9:30-11:30am: Risk Managment and WP Policy workshop will describe how to handle potentially scary and dangerous field situations, group dynamics, communications and consider what options are available to you as a WildPlaces' leader.

11:30-12:30pm: Lunch and Break to the River

1:00-4:00 pm River Safety/Intro to Swift Water Rescue : Emergency Scenarios will present possible field emergencies to the group and provide opportunity to practice preparedness in a controlled setting for what might happen in a wild setting and on the river.

4:00 pm: Debrief and Free Time

Free TIME

6:30 pm Supper is Provided

Evening Activity: Fire Building Competition

Sunday, May 14th

Fire Ecology and Wildfire Recovery Project Overview.

WP Summer Events Calendar Review and Sign up

Participants are invited to go on a hike or a bike or relax on the river.

UPDATE

The drownings (three now) on Tule River has tarnished the Kern and Tule Rivers' reputations quite a bit and enforcement agencies will close many sites including many of the free sites above and below "The Stairs" that WP has adopted over the years. Prior to the drownings, our position in light of increased use on the river and environmental impacts plus reduced federal budgets was to agree to temporary closure of 1/3 of the sites, allowing WP to oversee the remaining. Now any such discussion about which sites will be closed is out the window.

Now in light of the drownings, WildPlaces will conduct an Introduction to Swift Water Rescue for our volunteers, staff, and the public and will occur on May 13th from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. at the WildLeaders Training in Springville (5/13-14).

See www.wildplaces.net and fb for details and to sign up. Space is limited. THIS IS ONLY AN INTRODUCTION AND CARRIES NO CERTIFICATION UPON COMPLETION.

The WildLeaders Training will also cover basic risk management in field settings, orienteering, and first aid. Cost is free to WildPlaces' volunteers and $10-25 (sliding scale) for all others. Gotta register by reaching Mehmet at 760.447.1702 and mehmet@wildplaces.net.

Moving Forward with Tragic Loss on the Rivers

 

May 6, 2017

 All,

Staff, Board, and volunteers of WildPlaces offer sincere condolences to the families and friends of the drowning victims on the Tule and Kern Rivers during recent high waters. In addition to the loss of human lives, these accidents have tarnished the reputation of the rivers as places of respite and relaxation. Enforcement and management agencies will close many if not all sites including trails in an effort to "protect" the public. These sites (above and below "The Stairs") are the only free sites, which WildPlaces’ Rio Limpio Program adopted over 8 years ago in an attempt to increase personal responsibility and understanding of the critical role rivers play in our communities’ health.

Prior to these tragic accidents, WildPlaces’ position in light of increased use on the river and resulting environmental impacts plus reduced federal budgets was to agree to the temporary closure of no more than 1/3 of the sites, allowing WildPlaces to oversee the remaining. Now any such discussion will be difficult.

I don’t think that closing the sites entirely is the best response. What is needed is more, not less, exposure to and education about this single most important element of the region – the Tule and Kern Rivers. The last thing we want is for people to stop coming here. Already we are dealing with generational gaps in getting communities outdoors. Taking use away will only exacerbate the problem.

The Rio Limpio program has made significant headway by inspiring responsible recreation use. It is a progression of education that some feel will falter when access is denied.

In response to these recent events, WildPlaces will conduct Swift Water Safety workshop that are available to the public. Additionally, WildPlaces has secured financial support to design and strategically place signage that reminds folks that risks are present and how to manage those risks to reduce incident. The first workshop will occur on May 13th from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. during the annually scheduled two-day WildLeaders Guide Training in Springville held May 13 – 14, 2017. (See www.wildplaces.net and fb for details and to sign up. Space is limited.)

This is an introductory workshop and is not to replace full Swift Water Rescue Training taught by certified trainers. The WildLeaders Training will also cover basic risk management in field settings, orienteering, and first aid. Cost is free to WildPlaces' volunteers and $10-25 (sliding scale) for all others. Participants must register by reaching Mehmet at 760.447.1702 and mehmet@wildplaces.net.

We must always respect nature. With all the beauty and free serves provided by the river like air and water, we cannot simply close it off to the world. Let’s learn from this terrible sacrifice to become better, more prepared river warriors! 

Regards,

Mehmet

 

Two Spirit Gatherings

Two Spirit (also two-spirit or twospirit) is a modern term used to describe certain spiritual people who may also be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and gender-variant.

 "Two Spirit" is not interchangeable with most words currently used in western culture such as LGBTQ, Queer, Gay, etc.  This title differs from most western, mainstream definitions of sexuality and gender identity in that it is not so much about whom one sleeps with, or how one personally identifies; rather, it is a sacred, spiritual and ceremonial role that is recognized and confirmed by the Elders of the Two Spirit's ceremonial community.

A Gathering of Two Spirit People is being organized now to be held on the Tule River in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California within the Giant Sequoia National Monument April 14-16th, 2017. 

Registration

Registration is required for this free event. Upon registration, you will be directed to receive, review, and complete (where requested) the following:

  1. Liability Waiver and Medical History are required. Complete and return by email or bring it along when you come.
  2. Guidelines for the Land upon which the event is held.
  3. Personal/Suggested Gear List
  4. Map Directions

The Land

The land is a 12-acre homestead located on both sides of the Tule River at 1,200 feet within the Blue Oak Woodlands in the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains within the Sequoia National Forest/Giant Sequoia National Monument.

We the peoples of divese tribes are The stewards of this land and we do our best to protect and enhance the natural qualities of it. It is an amazing privately-owned sanctuary and ceremonial place that includes MEXICA Temazcalli , Indigenous Dance, multiple, Talking circles, community leaders training, land and water restoration and stewardship, and camping for those who agree with its philosophy and vision.

The Activties

The Two-Spirit Gathering will include:

  • Temazcalli (or Mexica sweat) Lodge
  • Native dancing such as Danza Azteca
  • Facilitated Breakout sessions, workshops, and Talking Circles
  • Habitat restoration and stewardship project (Giant Sequoia seedling planting) on Sunday morning, 3/15th.
  • Sacred Alter  

The Accomodations

Limited camping is available. Information on BnB and other accomodations are limited but available. Advanced hotel reservation is recommended.

The Volunteer Opportunities

Two Spirit Gathering is on Facebook and is recruiting Two Spirit allies to help in all organizing facets.  Volunteers who are not necessarily participants but rather Two Spirit allies/supporters are needed for logistics, set-up and breakdown. Those volunteers are encouraged to arrive earlier in the week to help with set-up. We  will host and feed you. If you're free during any days in the week prior to the event and/or on event days and want to help, then please inquire...and help to bring our humanity, our lands, and traditions together.

The Sponsors

Two Spirits Ceremony is co-sponsored by Dolores Huerta Foundation, Acadamia Jovenil de Arte y Cultura (AJAC), and WildPlaces.